This is a follow-up of sorts to my piece on the West Michigan Whitecaps that came out late last week. I have seen many people asking about Jeff Thompson, so let’s discuss him a little bit.
Jeff Thompson was the Tiger’s Third Round pick in the 2013 draft out of the University of Louisville. People were pretty high on Thompson when he got drafted because of his good build and his ability to mix a good slider and change-up in with his low 90’s fastball.
After the Tigers signed Thompson, he was almost immediately sent to West Michigan. During that 2013 season he posted a 3.80 ERA and a 3.74 FIP in 45 innings. He impressed evaluators a lot his first year in West Michigan, enough for him to be found often on Tigers top 20 lists heading into the 2014 season. However, he suffered an injury that forced him to miss most of the 2014 season (he only pitched 8 innings). This caused him to be sent back to West Michigan to start this year and I have been able to catch numerous of his starts.
So after the injury and lost-development time, can Jeff Thompson still be thought of as a legitimate prospect?
As mentioned above, Thompson’s has always had size as a advantage. He is currently listed at 6’6", 245 and that looks fairly accurate. I would probably comp. his body to Dellin Betances of the Yankees. Thompson has very little physical projection remaining, but he already has a body that should hold up as a starter at the Major League Level.
Thompson throws from a more over the top arm slot. He has often struggled this year maintaining a consistent release point and arm slot. There isn’t really much effort in his delivery. He has a lot of arm speed, which adds deception. However, other than the arm speed, this delivery lacks deception and hitters can see the ball from fairly early on. I wouldn’t make any major mechanical tweaks mechanically in his delivery right now, other than maybe adding deception and trying to find consistency in his arm slot and release point.
Thompson’s fastball was consistently low 90’s when he was Louisville’s Friday Night starter his last year there before being drafted. This year he has been working more 87-89 and very occasionally touching 91 with his four seamer. This pitch lacks movement and it is very easy for hitters to pick it up. He has below average command of this pitch and he often misses up in the zone with it leading to hard contact. He also throws a cut fastball in the mid 80's. The cut fastball has limited movement and he struggles with with command and control on it. Fastball can be improved with improved command and movement.
Grade: Present 4/ Future 4+
With his slider he has consistently worked in the 80-82 range with good (sometimes slurve like) movement this year. This is without a doubt his primary out pitch right now. However, he has below-average control on this pitch as he has often struggled to find the strike zone with it. With improved command/control this can turn into a solid major league offering.
Grade: Present 4/ Future 5
This pitch is typically is the 83-84 range with a tiny bit of movement. This is his least effective pitch right now. He is able to throw with the same arm speed as his fastball, but the velocity difference isn’t enough to keep guys off-balance. His command of this pitch looks about average. Probably couldn’t rely on this to get more advanced hitters out.
Grade: Present 3/Future 3+
He has shown an inability to be able to throw his slider for strikes. He has also battled some serious fastball command problems. Some of his command/control problems are tied to the release point/arm slot problem I mentioned earlier, so if he fixes that (that's a big if) his command and control would improve a little bit.
I have some serious questions about his make-up, as he appears to have a pretty bad attitude. He has shown about an average pick-off move for a right-hander.
Thompson realistically looks like an organizational filler guy right now. If the command/control take a massive leap forward and he is able to regain some fastball velocity, he might be able to find a middle-relief job somewhere, but there’s a very low chance of that happening. I thought of him pretty highly after my 2013 viewings of him, but now he's pretty much a NP (non-prospect) for me.